Columns 2008

Auction for the birds

It was one of those moments. I shoved the salmon with pill into the eagle’s mouth as one volunteer held him and another gingerly pried his mouth open. I’d get the salmon down far enough to think he’d surely have to swallow. He’d glare at me and, the minute we let go of his mouth, spit it right back out. Then he’d glare some more.  I’d pick up the now tattered piece of salmon barely holding a melting pill in its center and we’d do the dance again. Eventually the humans won. But it was not lost on me that three adults with opposable thumbs and cognitive reasoning couldn’t outsmart one eagle. Ultimately, we could only out muscled him.

Maybe this is why, in the most important election of this campaign season, it was an eagle that came out on top as bird of the year.  Petra, who has been an education bird with Bird TLC for over ten years, took home the title after some fierce campaigning on the part of her human Todd.  Petra, of course, stayed above the politics that went into the campaign, preferring to keep herself unsullied.  Todd had no such qualms.

Her two rivals, a great horned owl named Gus and a raven named Crawford, feel that if the election had been held after the Kodiak incident, they would have surely won. As Gus so succinctly put it, “You didn’t see a bunch of owls diving in to a slime truck, did you? We are much too wise for that.”

In a world in which presidential campaigns in America seem to stretch on endlessly, one flowing into another with barely a break of a day, the recent election for Bird of the Year sponsored by Anchorage’s very own wild bird rehab center was a refreshing change.  The candidates had three months to make their case. The only requirement was that they do their best not to poop in someone’s house during campaign appearances. Other than that, the expectation was that people would be so wowed by their proximity to creatures of such beauty and grace that they would open their purses gladly and vote frequently.

That’s right, open their purses. Because this was an election in which the candidates openly begged to be bought.  No silly ethics forms to fill out. No APOC checking who made contributions.  No awkward questions about being too close with people who wanted favors. This campaign was all about money…wait, that’s pretty much what all presidential campaigns are about too. Oh, that’s right. This campaign made no attempt to be disingenuous about that fact.

The recent slime truck incident in Kodiak brought the Bird Treatment and Learning Center (Bird TLC) into the limelight in this state and across the country as the media followed the saga of the eagles that survived the dive.  Most Alaskans reacted with the generosity we’ve come to expect. The salmon flowed in to feed the eagles, money arrived to help pay the extraordinary heating and water bills, volunteers from laypeople to vets showed up to do whatever was needed to get the birds well.

And now, Bird TLC can happily report that almost all the birds have returned to Kodiak. They are somewhere in their aeries regaling their mates with tales of how brave and bold they were when captured by aliens who did weird things to them with hoses and hair dryers. And Petra, after bidding a fond farewell to her compatriots, prepares to take up the mantle of Bird of the Year, representing all of Alaska’s wild birds to the general public. She will carry a message about the need to keep Alaska’s wild spaces wild so that the thousands of birds that call Alaska home will always have a place to land.  Just preferably not in the back of a truck filled with salmon slime.

Bird TLC is preparing for its annual fund raiser on March 5 at the Captain Cook Hotel to help defray the cost of caring for Alaska’s wild birds year round. Mr. Whitekeys and the Spamtones will provide both the entertainment and the auctioneering. Come on out and meet Petra.  She’s probably the only winning candidate you’ll meet this year who will brag about how many votes she bought to cinch the election. And she promises to try and not poop anywhere near the appetizers. Honest.